Letter from the Editor: Rules and their exceptions
An interesting situation came up while we were working on today’s production. I was editing “Professor transcends spectrum of sound” in the life and arts layout when I came across the way Aisha Bouderdaben, who wrote the story, had written the word deaf on every reference like “d/Deaf.”
Early in the article, Aisha wrote that a Deaf person is someone who grew up in Deaf culture, while a deaf person is someone who simply can’t hear. My first instinct was to remove the explanatory paragraph and changed all references to the standard “deaf,” as I don’t think it adds all that much to the story, and it makes it a little tougher to read. But rather than just cut, I decided to double check Aisha’s reasoning for doing this first.
It turns out, that’s the way Brittain, the professor around whom the article was centered, stylized it for his class, and that’s also the way it’s written in the textbook he uses.
This is a situation that comes up sometimes with newswriting. There are a pretty specific set of style rules reporters write by in order to maintain consistency and clarity. The Associated Press Stylebook says to use “deaf,” but sometimes these rules conflict with the way a source or subject wants to be referenced, and that’s where things can get tricky.
Sometimes, the source’s preference is just too confusing. It might require a lengthy explanation or it might be totally counter-intuitive. In those cases, I usually prefer to stick with the AP Stylebook to make the article easier to read. Other times, sticking with the source requires only minor changes, and I’ll go with whatever the source prefers.
This case was right on the line, and I went back and forth several times. On one hand, the explanatory paragraph is a bit unwieldy, and nonstandard characters like a “/” are distracting and can break the flow of a story, but at the same time, I didn’t think “d/Deaf” was particularly confusing, and I didn’t want to disrespect a source who had taken the time to talk with us. In the end, I decided to go with the source’s apparent preference and keep “d/Deaf” in the article.
I’ve now spent more time writing the explanation than I did making the decision in the first place, but as a journalist, I think this balance between maintaining rigid style rules and adapting those rules when necessary is important to think about.
— Joshua Mann, Editor in chief